Playing hold’em, when dealt a strong hand, it is wise to Reduce the Size of the Playing Field (RSPF) before the flop. Cutting the field down to two or three opponents is more likely to help you win the pot.
In a previous column, I disagreed with another poker strategist’s preflop strategy for playing hands such as pocket Aces, Kings or Queens. He stated:
“By keeping the pot smaller and disguising your hand, you’ll get someone to bet into you the next round, allowing you to raise others out.”
In other words, he recommended that you not raise to RSPF before the flop; wait until after the flop.
Using pocket Queens to illustrate, we explained why it would be best to RSPF raise before the flop (unless it is a very tight table – at which you should not be playing). Do not wait for the next round of betting. Encouraging more opponents to stay to see the flop, your hand is more likely to be outdrawn, making you second best – a loser!
Also important is your betting position as it relates to the RSPF strategy. There are always viable exceptions to every rule.
Why is position so important?
Raising is the best means to RSPF, forcing out opponents who might otherwise catch cards that would overpower your hand. In so doing, your betting position makes a big difference. Why? How does it affect your actions?In general, position is an important factor in Texas hold’em. The later your betting position, the more you can see how your opponents bet before you must act. Having more information, the better the decisions you can make. (Knowledge is power!) But, position has yet other connotations when you are trying to force out opponents, especially preflop.
First to act, preflop
Preflop, an early-position raise may force out all of your opponents, especially at a tight table. How awful! Your beautiful pocket Queens would be wasted. (On average, expect to be dealt Q-Q or a higher pocket pair – A-A or K-K – only once every 73 hands!) Do not try to RSPF from an early position, or if everyone has folded to you preflop, unless you are quite certain at least one opponent will call your raise.
In a late position – another exception
Here is another exception: In a limit game, if you are one of the last to declare after several opponents have called the Big Blind to see the flop, your raise is not likely to force them to fold. They have already “invested” one small bet, and now the pot is big enough (i.e., the pot odds are relatively high) to warrant calling the second small bet (your raise) to see the flop. Meanwhile, you will have given your opponents information that you hold a strong hand; so they will be more cautious after the flop. Furthermore, you will have invested more in your hand, which you might have to abandon if an Ace and/or King falls on the flop while you have pocket Queens, and there is betting and raising before you. On the other hand, in a no-limit game, a huge bet from any position can help you to RSPF; that is a viable tactic.
In a middle position
It is best to make your preflop RSPF raise after two or three opponents have limped; then, a double small bet – or higher, in no-limit games – confronts opponents behind you who have yet to act. Now, faced with a double bet or higher (in no-limit), they are more inclined to fold, leaving you with two or three opponents. The pot odds are not favorable for those opponents yet to declare. Plus, your raise may also gain you position over your remaining opponents – last to declare. Now, you have optimized your chances of winning a reasonable-size pot.
We have shown why it is best to RSPF raise preflop when you are dealt a made hand; and what is your best action based on your betting position. There are exceptions.